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City of York Council (21 013 585)

Category : Transport and highways > Parking and other penalties

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 03 Apr 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Miss X complained about the Council’s failure to issue a parking permit, poor handling of her complaint and failure to properly consider her request for compensation. Miss X said she incurred extra costs, frustration in finding alternative parking and chasing the Council’s response. We found the Council at fault and recommended it apologise to Miss X, pay £144.80 and act to prevent recurrence.

The complaint

  1. Miss X complains the Council:
    • Failed to issue a parking permit;
    • Handled her complaint poorly including delays and
    • Failed to properly consider her request for compensation.
  2. Miss X said she incurred extra parking costs, frustration and stress in finding alternative parking and chasing the Council’s response.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I spoke to Miss X, and I reviewed documents provided by Miss X.
  2. Miss X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments before making a final decision.

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What I found

Council complaints policy

  1. The Council publishes its complaints policy on its website.
  2. This explains the Council’s two-stage complaint process. If it considers a further investigation of a stage 1 complaint would not lead to a significantly different outcome it can decide not to progress a complaint to stage 2.
  3. The Council provide an investigation report to the complainant within 20 working days of receiving the complaint.
  4. If the Council cannot meet the timescale, it will explain the delay to the complainant and advise them when to expect a full response. This will be no longer than 30 days.
  5. If the Council agree with the complaint, it will do one of more of the following:
    • Apologise and explain what went wrong;
    • Arrange for the customer to receive the service they were meant to receive, as far as possible;
    • Change its process, where relevant, so the mistake is not repeated;
    • Provide the appropriate and proportionate outcome based on LGSCO guidance.
  6. During the investigation, it will identify with the customer how they would like things put right. Alongside the Ombudsman’s remedies guidance, it will identify the appropriate resolution and remedies.
  7. Resolution may include:
  8. A good will gesture or compensation based on the Ombudsman’s remedies guidance.

Principles of good administrative practice

  1. In 2018 the Ombudsman published its updated ‘Principles of good administrative practice’ guidance for local authorities. Some of the core principles are an expectation local authorities will act on:
    • ‘acting fairly and proportionately’ by having clear and accessible appeal routes.
    • ‘getting it right’ by providing effective services, using appropriately trained and competent staff.
    • ‘being service user focused’ dealing with people helpfully, promptly and sensitively.

Council digital parking permits

  1. Anyone can apply for a digital parking permit through the Council’s website.
  2. To regularly park in a council car park, you can apply for a season ticket. Season tickets allow parking in some council car parks at any time. They can be bought monthly or yearly.
  3. A season ticket is a digital permit. The Council does not issue physical permits.
  4. The Council issues certain digital permits the 'same day'. A vehicle can park as soon as it is linked to a permit.

What happened

  1. Miss X bought a monthly digital parking permit on 4 October 2021, through the Council’s website for £84. Miss X needed the parking permit to enable her to park at a discounted rate in a car park near to where she studied.
  2. Miss X did not receive an immediate email with the permit and telephoned the Council to ask where it was. She said she was cut off several times and Council staff spoke down to her.
  3. She said the Council told her about a fault in the permit system. It told her to wait until it resolved the issue, before making another application for a permit.
  4. On 12 October Miss X complained to the Council through its website as she had not heard anything about her permit application and was incurring extra daily parking costs. Miss X said she received a response from the Council on 19 October saying it would provide a full response by 9 November.
  5. Separate to her complaint, Miss X telephoned the Council again on 28 October to ask where her permit was. She said the Council told her it had sent her an email on 26 October, advising it planned to refund £84 and she could now reapply for a permit. Miss X said the Council sent this email to an incorrect email address and had she not called, she would not have known.
  6. Ms X received the refund and bought her parking permit for November.
  7. Miss X emailed the Council on 10 November as she had not received a response to her complaint. She attached evidence of the extra parking costs she had incurred during October and asked for the Council to consider refunding her for them.
  8. The Council responded to Miss X’s complaint on the 18 November. Its response was addressed to another person, not Miss X and contained several grammar and spelling errors.
  9. It said an error in the Councils payment system had affected Miss X’s application. It explained the fault was with the supplier and not its new parking system. It partly upheld Miss X’s complaint.
  10. The Council’s recommendations said:
    • It would ensure the payment for the permit was refunded.
    • It would ensure any new application for a permit by Miss X would be processed correctly by following its own guidance on the website and application process.
    • It apologised to Miss X for the inconvenience caused.
  11. The Council’s response did not mention that Miss X had requested a refund for extra parking costs she had incurred while without the permit.
  12. Miss X was unhappy and confused with the Council’s response as it had addressed it to someone else. She telephoned the Council and asked for someone to call her back.
  13. The Council telephoned Miss X but addressed her by a different name, which Miss X said caused further confusion. Miss X said the member of staff had no knowledge of her complaint and planned to speak with a colleague and get back to her. On the call, Miss X explained she would like a refund for the extra costs incurred and to progress her complaint to stage 2 of the Council’s complaint process.
  14. The Council emailed Miss X on 30 November and said it would not offer Miss X any compensation as there were alternative areas to park while the service was not available. It also said it would not progress Miss X’s complaint to stage 2 as the outcome would not change. It directed Miss X to the Ombudsman.
  15. Miss X remained unhappy and brought her complaint to the Ombudsman.
  16. Miss X provided copies of her parking receipts for October, when she had no permit, totalling £153.80. She explained, some days she paid the daily rate for parking at the car park for which she had bought the permit. She said she also parked at other, cheaper locations when possible and when not under time constraints to get to her place of study. She said the long commute and traffic affected her ability to park elsewhere, as other car parks were a 20-minute walk from where she needed to be.
  17. Receipts provided show Miss X parked at three different car parks during October, including a car park which is cheaper and a 20-minute walk away from her place of study.
  18. Miss X could not provide dates or times of disconnected calls with the Council.
  19. Miss X said she is a commuting student and chasing a response from the Council between commuting three hours a day, and full-time study, has caused a lot of stress.

Analysis

  1. The Council failed to provide Miss X with a parking permit which she had paid for. This is fault. I say this because whether it was the supplier’s error, the Council are responsible for issuing the permit.
  2. This fault meant Miss X paid more for parking than she should have done. Miss X also tried to find cheaper parking alternatives, on days when time allowed. This made her commute longer, when she had already paid for, and was expecting to receive, a parking permit. This is injustice.
  3. The Council said it would not compensate Miss X for extra parking costs as there were alternative places to park. The parking receipts provided show Miss X did park in alternative car parks some of the time. I am therefore satisfied Miss X did seek out alternative, cheaper parking, when time allowed.
  4. Had the Council’s fault not occurred, £84 was the most Miss X should have paid for parking in October. Miss X paid £153.80 in parking costs and the Council refunded £84 for the permit that was not issued. The quantifiable financial loss to Miss X is therefore £69.80.
  5. Miss X said she was cut off several times when calling the Council and spoken down to by staff. Miss X cannot provide dates or times for the calls and the Council is unlikely to have call recordings. While I recognise disconnected calls can cause frustration, being spoken down to is a matter of perception and without evidence from call recordings, I am unable to find the Council at fault.
  6. Miss X did not receive a response to her complaint within the Council’s own complaint policy timescale. This is fault.
  7. The Council’s response to Miss X’s complaint was poorly written. The Council addressed it to another person, and it contained several grammar and spelling errors. When Miss X asked for someone to call her to discuss the response, the staff member called her by another name. In line with our principles of good administrative practice as indicated above in this statement, this is fault.
  8. The Council’s fault put Miss X to time and trouble in contacting the Council to clarify its complaint response. This is injustice.
  9. The Council refused payment but did not offer Miss X a right to review or appeal its decision, whether by considering the complaint at stage 2 or otherwise. In line with our principles of good administrative practice, the Council is at fault for not doing this. Had it done this, it may have refunded the charges and saved Miss X further time and trouble in bringing her complaint to the Ombudsman. I will recommend the Council remedies this injustice.

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Agreed action

  1. To remedy the injustice set out above I recommend the Council carry out the following actions:
  2. Within one month of the date of my decision:
    • Issue an apology to Miss X.
    • Pay Miss X £69.80 for extra parking costs.
    • Pay Miss X £75, which is a symbolic amount, to reflect the time and trouble she was put to during the complaint process.
  3. Within three months of the date of my decision:
    • Contact anyone who complained about not receiving a parking permit due to the system fault in October 2021, and offer a refund for any extra parking costs incurred, if there is evidence of such costs.
    • Provide complaint handling staff with guidance on the Ombudsman’s expectations that Councils will offer the right of a review or appeal on decisions.
  4. The Council has accepted my recommendations.

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Final decision

  1. I have found fault by the Council. This fault caused Miss X injustice and the Council has agreed to my recommendations, therefore I have completed my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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